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.C 5 







BA, University of the State of New York, 1982 

Submitted in partial fulfillment of the 

Requirements for the degree of 

Master of Divinity 


Copyright by 



Approved By 

Superviso r -f l^ *^' ^ l*Wi<g, lUtyV Ui ^J 

Dr. Fredrica Harris Thompsett, BA, MA, PhD* DD, DCL, DHL 
Mary Wolf Professor of Historical Theology 

le Rev. Dr. Snsryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook, BA, 


The Retf Dr. Shiryl A. Kujawa-Holbrook, BA, MA, MTS, MDiv, EdD, 

Academic Dean 
Suzanne Radley Hiatt Chair in Feminist Pastoral Theology and Church 


Table of Contents 

Acknowledgments v 

Introduction 1 

Biography 1 

Monastic Preaching in the Twelfth Century 5 

Exponsitiones evangeliorum 6 

Sermon 12: Matthew 2:2-12 

Translation 1 

Analysis 13 

Sermon 20: Luke 2:22-32 

Translation 20 

Analysis 23 

Sermon 28: Mark 16:1-7 

Translation 3 1 

Analysis 34 

Jesus, Vessel of Virginity: 

Observations of Virgin as Symbol, Virtue, and Person 42 

Conclusions 44 


Digitized by the Internet Archive 

in 2013 


The title for this thesis comes from the art exhibit Krone und Schleier: Kunst aus 
Mittelalterlichen Frauenklostern presented at the Ruhrlandmuseum Essen and Kunst- 
und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublic Deutschland, Bonn in the spring of 2005. Dr. 
Jeffrey Hamburger of Harvard University helped to organize this show. The idea for this 
thesis came to me thanks to the symposium given by St. Michael's College and the 
University of Vermont in 1998, as part of the millennial celebration of the birth of 
Hildegard of Bingen. I would like to thank the Rev. Joade Dauer-Cardasis, my parish 
priest at that time, and Laurel Broughton, lecturer at the University of Vermont, for 
encouraging me to attend that symposium. At the end of the symposium one of the 
lecturers mentioned that there was still scholarly work to be done on Hildegard, 
particularly on her sermons, and she invited us to do that work. 

I would also like to thank the Rev. Dr. Richard McCall for his invaluable insights 
in how to approach aesthetic theology, semiotics and liturgical history, and Dr. Fredrica 
Harris Thompsett, who shepherded me through the process of learning how to write 
church history. At the Harvard Divinity School I was privileged to meet and study with 
Dr. Beverly Mayne Kienzle. She kindly gave me access to the Latin text from her 
forthcoming scholarly edition of the Hildegardis Expositiones Evangeliorum. She also 
helped me to find sources for my research and generously took time to discuss issues that 
arose from that research. Also at Harvard I met Stephen D' Evelyn, with whom I had 
many delightful "Hildegard lunches," and who introduced me to what proved a seminal 
book for my understanding of Hildegard' s aesthetics, Elaine Scarry's Dreaming by the 
Book. I would like to thank my sister, Marilyn Christianson, research librarian 

extraordinaire, who asked all sorts of interesting questions. Thank you all for your 
generosity of spirit. And to crown this feast, I would like to thank mio caro esposo, 
Stephen Whiteley, who placed many a hot meal by me as I typed away and who 
encouraged me in this whole complicated endeavor. Whatever is good in this opus I owe 
to these amici, whatever is amiss is my own responsibility. 



Hildegard of Bingen, famous in her lifetime as a prophet and composer of music, 
poetry, and books, left a collection of sermons which she had given to her nuns. The 
purpose of this paper is to locate these sermons within the culture in which they were 
performed, to examine how Hildegard uses symbols in the composing of these sermons, 
and speculate on how this knowledge might help preachers effectively and ethically 
evangelize. The particular lens through which I will conduct this analysis will be the 
virtue virginity, analyzing three sermons that have virginity as a major theme. This 
should be a sufficient witness to her artistry and her methods, and to reveal what meaning 
virginity had for Hildegard, and through her teaching, to her nuns. 


Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1 179) was born into a family belonging to the German 
aristocracy. The family had done well enough financially and socially to enable to place 
their daughter under the tutelage of the noble woman Jutta von Spanheim, 1 have two sons 
in positions of prestige and responsibility in the church, and later to have a grandson, 
Hildegard' s nephew, become an Archbishop of Trier, one of the most powerful and 
prestigious sees in Europe. The fact that she was their tenth child would certainly have 
marked her for dedication as an oblate, if the family could find an appropriate situation 

1 Jutta' s father, Stephan von Sponheim, though the son of a Graf (Count or Earl), seems not to 
have used the title. Schipperges, Heinrich. The World of Hildegard of Bingen (Collegeville, Minnesota: 
The Liturgical Press, 1998) 30. 

Hugo was precentor of Mainz Cathedral, Roricus was a canon at Tholey in the Saar,. Her sister 
Clementia became a nun at Hildegard's monastery, also no small accomplishment financially and socially. 

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Regina Christianson 

for her. 3 She seems to have had a natural spirituality from early childhood, but to call it 
precocious is prejudicial and hagiographical, based on what she became. Natural 
spirituality is hardly unusual in children. She had visions which she did not understand 
nor did she know what to do with them, but it is important to know that visions in and of 
themselves are not necessarily signs of advanced spirituality. 4 

In 1 106, Hildegard was enclosed with Jutta von Spanheim, as part of the 
ceremony that officially inaugurated Jutta as an anchorite. The anchorage was built into 
the walls next to the chapel of Disibodenberg Abbey, a Benedictine men's community. 
However, it would be a mistake to think that Hildegard never left the anchorage to visit 
her family; the status of young women in the care of an anchorite was too flexible for us 
to make that assumption. 

During Hildegard' s youth, the Disibodenberg Abbey was in the process of being 
reconstructed. Jutta' s presence at the monastery would have solidified her father's 
financial support and continued protection. 5 Jutta' s not inconsiderable social standing 
and reputation for holiness signaled to others the worthiness of the institution, 
encouraging gifts, support, and the entrance of others of the high nobility into the 
monastery and anchorage. 


Almost universally other authors comment that because she seems to have been sickly as a child 

that this would also have marked her for dedication to the Religious Life, but I find that hard to accept. 

Relatively good health was then, as now, a requirement for entry into a monastery. Despite her headaches, 

she must have had an underlying stable, healthy constitution that would enable her to take on a physically 

demanding life. 

Many believe her headaches were migraines, and believe they were the cause of her visions. 

Both assertions may or may not be true, but to equate the migraine with the vision does nothing to help us 

understand either her spirituality or her theology. 

In fact, Stephan was responsible for the reconstruction of Disibodenberg. Ibid., p. 30. This may 

imply lay investiture, and may have originally placed Disibodenberg as an Aachen reform monastery, 

rather than Gregorian. 

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Regina Christianson 

It is difficult to say anything with total assurance of Hildegard's education. 6 We 
know from her Vita, that Jutta taught her to read and write. As evidenced by the breadth 
of her learning, Hildegard must have had access to many of the major medieval texts, 
though she was probably not taught a systematic curriculum as she would have had she 
been a monk. But having the abbey right there, with its library, network of access to 
other abbey's libraries, and scholar monks, would have placed the texts and knowledge 
very close to her, at least in florilegia. She was under the especial spiritual care of 
Volmer, monk of Disibodenberg, since she disclosed her visions to Jutta. The 
interpretation the visions, which would become the basis for her writings, would have 
required great theological and spiritual expertise. 

Jutta' s Vita describes Jutta' s spirituality as that of hermits, of which the anchorite 
life is a form: extreme in asceticism, individualistic in prayer. The "little school" of the 
Benedictine way, with its emphasis on community, communal prayer, and suspicion of 
extreme asceticism, was not the picture of Jutta that her biographers present. 
As other young women joined Jutta the anchorage expanded, eventually becoming 
effectively a Benedictine women's community. Though there is evidence that the 
community was heading in that direction as early as 1112, there may have been no 
official change until after Jutta' s death. It would be very difficult for Jutta to keep the 
Benedictine Rule with her form of prayer and spirituality, let alone her temperament, 
which tended towards extremes. And it was not unheard of for women living in the same 

Current scholarship is giving us more confidence in asserting which books she actually had 
access to. 

Florilegia were collections of excerpts rather than an author's complete book. Florilegia were 
the norm in the Middle Ages, a complete book the exception. This causes great difficulty in assaying 
whether or not Hildegard read the complete book which she is referencing. However Disibodenberg had a 
particularly fine library, thanks to Bishop Siward of Uppsala. The bishop resided in the monastery around 
the time Hildegard became magistra or the anchorage, and left his books, including the Etymologiae of 
Isidore of Seville to the monks. Ibid., p. 5 1 . 

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Regina Christianson 

establishment to follow two or more different rules. At age sixteen, Hildegard received 
the Benedictine habit from Bishop Otto of Bamberg. 9 

It is safe to say the Hildegard steered the community in the direction of 
Benedictine spirituality after she was unanimously elected magistra 10 after the death of 
Jutta, a role that assumed chief organizational responsibility as well as spiritual 
leadership. The Abbey to which the nuns were attached was the legal entity to which they 
belonged. All endowments were in the hands and control of the Abbot, who found the 
fame of Jutta and the Hildegard a source of support and recruits. It is no wonder that 
Hildegard wanted to found an independent Abbey and that Abbot Kuno and his successor 
fought so hard to keep the women under their charge. 

Hildegard wrote: three major theological works, based on her visions, Scivias, 
Liber vitae mertorum and the Liber divinorum operum; two books on medicine and 
science, Physica and Causa et Cura; two lives of Saints, the Vita Sancti Disibodi 
(perhaps a peace offering to Abbot Kuno) and the Vita Sancti Ruperti; the first morality 
play, the Ordo virtutum, for which she also composed the music and the Symphonia, the 
collection of her through-composed antiphons and sequences; the Exponsitiones 
evangeliorum, a collection of sermons she gave to her community; and many letters 
(epitola) which contained everything from prophecies, to exhortations and sermons, to 
sharp rebukes for acts of injustice. 

The Canonesses of Gandersheim, Saxon princesses, "sponsored" a community of Benedictine 

nuns who lived with them 



Ibid., 30. 

The office of magistra was analogous to that of a prioress. Because of the community was 
legally a dependency of the Abbey, it would not be until St. Rupertsberg gained complete autonomy from 
Disenbodenberg that Hildegard would have abbatial authority. 

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In response to Cathar preaching, when she was about 62, Hildegard was asked to 
a make preaching tour. In all, she made four tours, mostly along the Rhine and Rhur, but 
also into Swabia. 11 Hildegard preached in monasteries and cathedrals. Of the sermons 
from that tour, we only have a few in letters, sent after the fact. One such, which still 
survives, was at the request of the Cathedral Chapter in Cologne. Though some of her 
sermons may have been heard by the laity, it is likely that many of her sermons were for 
the ears of clerics alone, for her words are often sharply critical of priests and prelates 
who do not take adequate care of their charges. 

Monastic Preaching in the Twelfth Century 

As part of the Gregorian reform, the demand for sermons and preachers grew 
dramatically in the twelfth century. Within the twelfth century monastic setting, sermons 
were expected at least in tempore (Advent to Pentecost) at the last Nocturn of Matins and 
after the work of the day at Collation. During the summer, because of the shorter nights, 
it seems that the Matins sermon could be omitted. There were other opportunities for 
preaching, particularly during Chapter meetings, which were held daily, usually after 
Prime, when the work of the day was discussed and any community business could be 
brought up. These sermons would be given by the Abbess or Abbot, or a preacher 

11 Schipperges lists them as: the first, c.l 160, Mainz, Wurzberg, Bamberg, the second to Trier 
and Lorraine, the third, Boppard, Andernach, Cologne and the Rhur, and the last, c. 1 170 to Maulbronn, 
Hirsau, and Zwiefalten, ibid., 59. Matthew Fox says she also went to Paris. I find that suspect, given her 
antipathy towards the schools. I found no other mention of a tour to Paris in any other literature on her. 
Matthew Fox, Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingenf Edited with Commentary by Matthew Fox (Santa Fe, 

NM: Bear & Co., 1985)8. 


So called because the program was begun by Hildebrand, Pope Gregory VII (1073-85), who 

was committed to a strong papacy and believed that the spiritual (i.e. the church) should dominate the 

material. This reform movement was a continuation of reforms of the Synods of Aachen in the ninth 

century, with a couple of important differences. While the Synods of Aachen sought to work with secular 

powers in the founding and sustaining of monasteries, hospices, and churches, and assumed the right of 

laymen to name the leaders of those institutions, called "investiture rights," the Gregorian reform 

considered any such action a sinful interference, open to the charge of simony. The particular conflict 

played out in various other political ways, the election of popes and anti-popes not the least among them. 

The Crown and the Veil 
Regina Christianson 

designated by them. Especially at Chapter and Collation, epistles from contemporary 
spiritual leaders could be read and function as sermons. There could also be sermons 
during or associated with Masses on Sundays and feast days. For women monastics, 
these sermons would have been given by the particular priest assigned the nun's spiritual 
care. For Hildegard and her community, this role would have been played by Volmer. 
Sermons by Gregory the Great, St. Augustine, St. Jerome, as well as others were read as 
lessons during Matins, and in the refectory. Published collections of sermons would also 
have been handed out to the monastics for their private study as lectio divina. There were 
vernacular services rather like the pro-anaphora, called Prone, during which a sermon 
could be given. 1 

Exponsitiones evangeliorum 

Hildegard' s sermons appear in two sources, the Exponsitiones evangeliorum 
{Expositions of the Gospels) 15 and in her letters. The Exponsitiones were probably given 
by her to her own community of nuns in her role ofmagistra and collected and published 

13 It is in this context that the plea of Heloise for Abelard to send her letters is so poignant. In 
Letter 1, she reproaches him that neither by word (sermone) while he is present nor by letter (epistola) in 
his absence has he sought to console her and care spiritually for the women in the monastery he founded, 
"vel sermone presentem, vel epistola absentem consolari temptaveris." (Letter 1 :9: 2 "you are neither 
tempted to console me either by conversation while you are present nor by a letter in your absence;), "in 
tantam tibi negligentiam atque oblivionem venerim ut nee colloquio presentis recreer nee absentis epistola 
consoler;" (Letter 1:16:1 "have I came into such great neglect and forgetfulness by you that neither am I 
revived by conversation with you present nor consoled by a letter when you are absent."), while other 
fathers of the church have written copiously to women monastics who have far less claim on them then 
Heloise and her nuns have on Abelard. "Quot autem et quantos tractatus in doctrina vel exhortatione seu 
etiam consolatione sanctarum feminarum sancti patres consummaverint, et quanta eas diligentia 
composuerint, tua melius excellentia quam nostra parvitas novit (Letter 1 :9: 1 "But how many (and how) 
worthy treatises in accordance with doctrine, either by exhortations or consolations of holy women, did the 
holy fathers about, and with what diligence did they compose them, your distinction knows better than our 

14 A Prone is a homily on virtue or vice arising out of a Gospel text. I have been unable to 
ascertain if these services were strictly parochial, or whether they could also be found in a monastic setting. 

Beverly Mayne Kienzle and Carolyn Muessig are currently preparing an edition based on 
manuscripts for Corpus Christianorum Continuation Mediaevalis. The previous standard edition was 
Analecta Sanctae Hildegardis, ed. Jean-Baptiste Pitra, Analecta Sacra, vol. 8 (Monte Cassino, 1882) 245- 

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Regina Christianson 

in her lifetime under her supervision. Their form, astonishing to modern readers, 
presumes a scholarly community, disciplined in being able to follow a running allegorical 
biblical commentary. The nuns would have memorized the biblical texts, and been able 
to pick out the biblical passages, as Hildegard alternated between the text and her 
commentary. The frequent use of licet (certainly) and scilicet (clearly) are a clue that she 
is going form the biblical text to the commentary, also she may have been alternating 
between Latin for the biblical text and German for the exposition. The form is similar to 
that found in the sermons of Gregory the Great, and is one that shows the close 
connection between exegesis and sermons in the medieval sermon. Traditionally the 
Bible could be treated in one of four ways: historically, that is literally with an 
understanding of context; allegorically, that is symbolically, particularly using type and 
antitype; tropology, that is morally, concerned with vice and virtue; and spiritually, also 
called anagogical, ascetical or apocalyptic, that is, in relation to the heavenly realm, the 
"end" or goal of creation. In actual practice during the Middle Ages, the emphasis was 
on allegory and tropology. Hildegard invariably uses allegory; however she uses the 
allegory in four ways, reflective of the four treatments but closer in spirit to Origin's 
differentiation between the literal and the spiritual meaning. These themes are: 

1) the collective struggle of humankind in salvation history, 

2) the journey of the faithful soul, 

3) the individual and collective battles against sin that the nun and her community 
wage in monastic life 

4) the cosmological theme of the harmony of cosmic elements reestablished with 
the soul's restoration. 16 

16 O. C. Edwards, Jr., A History of Preaching (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2004) 200, citing 
Kienzle's "Hildegard of Bingen's Teaching in her Expositiones evangeiorum and Ordo virtutum" in 
Medieval Monastic Education, ed. George Ferzoco and Carolyn Muessig (London and New York: 
Leicester University Press, 2000) 72-86. 

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Regina Christianson 

Hildegard takes a common metier and stretches it beyond its limits, molding it to express 
her vision, her mission, her responsibility. 

In distinction from other famous preachers of the Middle Ages, Hildegard does 
not tell stories (exempla), does not use the catechetical techniques of rhythms and rhymes 
to help her nuns remember what she says. It appears that she does not perform miracles 
to make her point, nor enact or perform the sermon's meaning. The scholastic sermon, 
with its thema and disputantes, has not yet been developed, though there are 
contemporary preachers who were developing the use of the thema. Hildegard clearly 

i n 

preaches in the monastic tradition, which eschewed disputations (dialectic.) In 
comparison with St. Bernard of Clairvaux, in form her sermons are more compact, 
quickly going back and forth between the text and her commentary, whereas Bernard 

I Q 

takes his time with each phrase or word, and allows for expansion and digression. 
Though she exhibits an extensive knowledge of the authoritative authors, the auctores, 
she does not string together other people's sayings, but transformed their wisdom into a 
complex allegorical psychodrama. 

For Hildegard, having her nuns be well grounded in scriptures was of primary 
importance. This relates to her understanding of the monastic life as building up 
heaven. The study and memorizing of scripture was on a par with, in fact part of, the 
liturgical life of the Opus Dei. Not only was every psalm sung at least once a week, 
through the antiphons, responsories, and hymns, other part of the Bible were also sung. 

17 Bernard of Clairvaux is an interesting transitional figure. Though he preaches against dialectic 
and speculative theology, he none the less uses both. 

18 This expansion may be the result of extensive editing for the literary publishing of the 
sermons. It is interesting to speculate that his spoken sermons might have been closer to Hildegard' s in 


This recurrent theme of Hildegard's symbolically expressed as music, gems, shining stones. 


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Regina Christianson 

The Bible, as well as commentaries and expositions were read at various liturgical and 
communal moments throughout each day and night. So her nuns were well prepared 
understand the biblical text. 

There is no way to know whether she originally gave the sermons in Latin or 
German. It was the overwhelming custom to preach in the vernacular, except in front of 
clergy or scholars. Hildegard's sermon was either completely in Latin, or macaronic, 
going back and forth between the biblical passages which the nuns had memorized in 
Latin, and the exegesis in German. Given the emphasis she placed on education in her 
monastery, I would not be surprised if either she had preached in Latin as a mark of 
respect for her Sisters or in German so that even the least proficient would be edified. 

Hildegard presupposes that her nuns know philosophical categories and concepts. 
For example, in Sermon 56: Erunt signa, she assumes such knowledge as four elements, 
microcosm/macrocosm, and the music of the spheres. As magistra, she was the 
community's teacher, responsible in their education and in stirring up devotion within 
them, so that they have the desire to continue to grow in charity and holiness of life. She 
especially understood that teaching the virtues needs engagement with the imagination, 
that symbolic language is efficacious in addressing the heart and will. Above all, she 
assumes the intelligent good- will of her Sisters, never talking down to them or belittling 
or dismissing them. She treats them as intellectual and spiritual equals. And she protects 


There are some tantalizing anomalies in the commentary sections of her sermons, the presence 

of biblical phrases which do not correspond to the exact the Latin words found in the Vulgate. There are 

three possibilities that I can think of: she was using commentaries that used the Old Latin Bible (This is 

Stephen D'Evelyn's current supposition), or she had access to an Old Latin Bible (but the chances of a 

complete Old Latin Bible in the twelfth century are not very good), or (my unsubstantiated favorite) this is 

evidence that she preached in German and whoever took the notes just translated the German 

phrase literally into Latin. 

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Regina Christianson 

them from the ever increasing misogynism by inoculating them with a sense of self- 
worth. It is in this context that she preaches on virginity. 

Sermon 12: Matthew 2:2-12 
Feast of the Epiphany 

Translation of the Sermon Texr 1 

When Jesus was born , that is the word of the father, through whom everything 

was created and freed, when he proceeded in creating creatures, so that through those 

four elements, in which is pasture land for creation of all, those who confess God, are 

created: in the days of Herod the King , certainly in that beginning, when even the devil, 

who wished to himself rule and to have his own will carried out, was created, behold 

Magi , that is pagans and Jews, who are question things in knowledge of good and evil, 

from the east , that is created and inspired by God, since all wisdom is from the Lord God. 

came , through questioning Jerusalem : where clearly here where humans make their 

habitation, quiet, instruction, and law according to their own faith, saving: Where is he , 

certainly by which law ought to be worshipped, who is born , before time and before 

creation, king of the Jews , clearly of all who confess him? For we have seen , in the eyes 

of the knowledge of the soul, His star in the east , that is very gift exuding from divinity, 

such as the strength of Samson, and the wisdom of Solomon, and have come , seeking, to 

adore him , that we might know because no one other than that one (God) exists. 

5 1 

All translations are mine. Most of the Biblical translations are from the NRSV for the benefit 
of resonance for the modern reader, but I used the Hildegard's Latin Vulgate and also interpretation 
reflected through her compositions as the basis for my particular decisions, and I note where her text differs 
from the Vulgate or Vetus Latinus. This variation is never substantial; mostly she does it to clarify. The 
Psalms are invariably from the Vetus, based on the Septuagent, and part of the modern Vulgate (V). 

in ortu Mo, in that rising/ beginning/source, i.e.: at the beginning of creation. 


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Moreover hearing , because he knew by this in his knowledge, King Herod , clearly 
the devil, who exercises his power in this world, was thrown into confusion , in a strait, 
that which God required, who was himself the most glorious and powerful, and all of 
Jerusalem , certainly those who lived according to the law itself, who had established 
themselves in their teaching, with him , clearly the devil, considering whether virtue can 
dwell in accordance with injustice, or not. 

And gathering together , in stupefaction, all the principal citizens , that is the 
ancestor and leaders who gave the laws of diverse forms of worship, priests , certainly 
those who themselves observed worship, and scribes , who themselves arranged worship, 
of the people , clearly of those who then simply worshiped: he inquired , in cunning, from 
them , from the worshipers, Where the Christ was to be born , that is was to originate from, 
whom the ancestors themselves desired to have. 

But they , who have the wisdom of this world, said to him , following that which 
they believed: In Bethlehem, that is the four elements, they confessed that which itself is 
in creation. For so it has been written , clearly found and known, according to the prophet , 
that is rationality. And you Bethlehem , clearly the four elements, in the land , clearly, 
maintaining and sustaining of creatures, of Judah , of confessing God, you are by no 
means the least , in your strength, because you will be great in wonders and reputation, 
among the rulers , that is among the angels, of Judah , of confessing God, since God 
gathers with the angels in praise, and you will extol him exceedingly. For from you , 
because he will became human, shall come , born of a virgin, a leader , leading and saving 

23 Micah5:2. 


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humanity, who will rule , in rectitude, 24 my people Israel , that is those who are rational 
and my own considering God by means of reason. 

Then Herod , the devil, secretly , certainly in his cunning, called for the wise men , 
for the investigators of created things, carefully enquired from them , asking, clearly the 
intellectual appetite, of the star , that is of the gift of God, that had appeared to them , 
certainly those to who whom it is shown. And sending them , that is sending them away in 
the poison of deceit, to Bethlehem , certainly the four elements, in which is the pasture of 
creation, saying that even Ballam might accomplish it and you might imitate. Go , 
through questioning, and ask diligently , through many inquiries, for the boy , clearly you 
will require such innocence, and when you have found him , him in the appetite of reason, 
report to me , in the appetite of the flesh, returning to me that I also may go , through the 
deceit of pretence, to adore him , as though I would fall down in veneration of him, with 
fornication, avarice and the like. 

Who when they had heard , in their knowledge, the king , the devil, they departed , 
seeking that in many wisdoms of the world. And behold the star , certainly the appetite for 
the gifts of God, which they saw, in the eyes of knowledge, in the East , appearing from 
God, went before them , in Abraham and in Moses, until coming up to , in the precepts of 
the laws, it stopped over , preserved in deep rooted obedience, the place where the child 
was , certainly the innocence of children. 

Moreover, seeing , in their knowledge, the star , the gift of God in circumcision, 
they rejoiced , in the wisdom of rationality, with exceeding great joy , so that their souls 

24 Rectitudine: uprightness, righteousness. 

Num. 22:30. This allusion was contained in a common proverb throughout Europe during the 
middle ages. The speaking donkey had become an allegory of the pagan philosophers disclosing the true 
nature of God. 


The Crown and the Veil 
Regina Christianson 

tasted of heaven itself. And entering the house , certainly the law of rectitude, they found 
the child , clearly innocence, with Mary , that is virginally in the teachings of the law, 
because it revealed the incarnation of Christ, his mother , clearly innocence, because 
virginity brings forward innocence, what Cain lost in the effusion of his brothers blood, 
whence afterward innocent Christ raised the peoples to being saved. And falling 
prostrate , in the experience of faith, they adored him , recognizing God in truth, 
and opening their treasure chests , clearly with their desires, they offered to him , that is to 
prayer persevering with hope, presents , binding themselves fast in love to God with the 
sacrifice burnt whole upon the altar. 

And having been warned , through the beneficial inspiration in their very desire, in 
sleep , that is in the shadow of prophecy, not to return , going back, to Herod , clearly to the 
heresy that comes from the devil, through another way , clearly through the living God, 
because they had first worshipped the false and the dead, they returned , they return to 
themselves, into their own country , in the free choice of the pursuit of heaven. 

Virginity in Sermon 12: Matthew 2:2-12 
Feast of the Epiphany 

Analysis of the Text 

"Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will raise up to David a righteous 
Branch," sings the Responsory for the First Vespers of Advent, like a clarion call, a call 
to wake up and pay attention, call to wait in breathless expectation for the coming of 
salvation. Advent is an intense season in a monastery. There are increasingly many 
more hours of darkness than there are of light, the longest nights of the year. The 
liturgical music contains some of the church's most poignant and famous melodies, 


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Regina Christianson 

including the Great O Antiphons for the Magnificent during Vespers in the novena before 
Christmas. The themes of the end time remind the nuns of judgment and the need to 
prepare the heart through self-examination and penitence. The nuns fast and make their 
confessions of sin in preparation of receiving their Christmas communion. The chapel 
and larder prepare for the feast, the hush of nature in winter embraces the monastery, and 
every nun is almost on tip-toes with expectation. 

Then Christmas comes with joyful celebration in the music, liturgy, and 
refectory. An octave is too short a time, even a novena cannot contain the explosion of 
joy, so for twelve days the monastery is extravagant in liturgy, song, chapel 
appointments, and meals that stretch to the bounds what is allowed by Rule. Then on 
Twelfth Night comes Epiphany Eve, the eve of the Feast of the Three Kings. The time of 
feasting draws to a close; the cold of winter has invaded. But while the nuns were in the 
Advent fast, the solstice had happened, the days were slowly beginning to lengthen, 
discernable for the first time on this night. With months of cold and fasting ahead of 
them, the nuns would be aware of how precious was this sign of hope, symbolized in the 
biblical narrative as the star in the east. 

On the allegorical level, the theme of this sermon is knowledge. Underlying is the 
spiritual level of ascesis, and the spiritual meaning of virginity. Behind this sermon are 
three concerns for the monastic spirituality: the challenge of the cathedral schools and 
speculative theology, a misogyny that would deny women have rationality, and the 
Cathars. Though the struggle between the monastics and the scholars, in which 
Hildegard played no small part, is a major theme in this sermon, as well as the honor 
Hildegard gives the intellectual abilities of her Sisters through her use of inclusive 


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Regina Christianson 

language, for the purposes of this analysis I will concentrate on the last concern, the 
Cathars, for it is there that Hildegard's teaching about creation open up her ideas about 

Though usually associated with Occitania, Cathars were to found throughout 
Western Europe. In 1 143 Everwin of Steinfeld, prior of a Praemonstratensian community 
near Cologne, wrote to Bernard of Clairvaux, asking him for advice concerning two 
groups of dissidents in the Rhineland. The description of one of the groups matches what 
we know about early Cathars. 26 Unsettled by the idea that a loving God would sacrifice 
His own Son, Cathars believed that the world was created instead by a malignant being, 
that materiality participates in that evil, and that only the spiritual can help human escape 
from the clutches of materiality. The Cathar perfects, both male and female, rejected 
materiality by sexual continence, refusing to procreate, and being strictly vegetarians. 
Most seemed to have believed in reincarnation as a punishment for failing to be freed 
from the bonds of materiality. A Cathar kinsman asked Mengarde Buscalh to give her 


sickly child to the "good men," and not give him milk, that he might go directly to 
paradise. 29 

Everwin describes their beliefs: those with "ancient roots who practice the laying-on-of-hands 
as their sacrament and live openly with women (early Cathars) and those who reject infant baptism and 
ecclesiastical authority (proto- Waldensians.) Beverly Mayne Kienzle, Cistercians, Heresy and Crusade in 
Occitania, 1145-1229: Preaching in the Lord's Vineyard (Suffolk UK and Rochester USA: York Medieval 
Press 2001) 86. 

Since most of the information we have about the Cathars is from the inquisitional testimonies, 
i.e. the records of the enemies of the Cathars, we can only be somewhat sure that what we know of their 
beliefs is actually what they believed. However, the scholars I read all agreed that these probably 
accurately reflect some of their beliefs. 

Endura: being ritually received into the sect, then take no food or drink. 

Peter Dronke, Women Writers of the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 
1984) 210. The text of her testimony from the Register ofJacque Fournier is found in Dronke pp. 269- 
270. Mengarde could not agree to this. 


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Regina Christianson 

Hildegard affirms earthly knowledge as she affirms God's good creation. Jesus is 
the one through whom all creation is created and freed; creation is the field {pasture) of 
God's relationship with humanity. The four elements, which are contained in varying 
proportions in all created things, bind all creation in relationship with all creation, and all 
creation with God, the author of the elements. Such affirmation was not unusual in her 
century; affirmation of creation as God's good creation was the basis for both natural law 
and for the spiritual life, the belief that one could discern through the order and laws of 
nature something about the One who created it. 

Hildegard stands in stark contrast to the Cathar's ontological dualism. In all of 
her compositions she teaches that not only did the loving God create the world through 
and outpouring of love, but that God continues to sustain and heal creation, that through 
the incarnation God participates in the created order, and that the created order has as its 
future transfiguration into God's glory, the new creation. 

The problem for Hildegard and the church was how to articulate this world- 
affirming theology and still maintain the value of celibacy and asceticism. Though she 
was herself celibate, held a high estimation of virginity, and was in all practical sense a 
vegetarian, 4 her motivation for and meaning of being a celibate vegetarian was 
completely different than that of the Cathars. She does not denigrate marriage or human 
sexuality. She teaches that, rather than an essentially evil universe, it is a good that the 
devil has perverted. Asceticism's true motivation and meaning is that of letting go of 

30 Words from the sermons will be in italics. 

The theology behind these assertions is found throughout Hildegard's writings. Two of the 
best known are Sciv/as, Book One: Vision Three (p. 9 Iff) and Book Two, Vision Two (p. 161ff). 

32 The auctor who legitimated this use of the study of nature came from Pseudo-Dionysius. It 
was particularly exploited by the Victorines, especially Hugh of St. Victor, Hildegard's contemporary. 

It is partly because of her clear articulation of her belief in a good and loving God creating a 
good and wholesome cosmos that she was asked to go on her preaching tours. 

Rule of St. Benedict proscribes meat except for the very young, the elderly, and the sickly. 



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Regina Christianson 

possessing and being possessed of earthly things. Its aim is right relationship with the 
created order. 

In the sermon, Hildegard establishes the Magi as both the people who seek to 
know about God through studying the cosmos, that is, the inquirers, and the Jews, to 
whom God had revealed himself through the patriarchs, prophets and the law. Herod 
embodies the devil, seeking to pervert the inquirers' knowledge. The eyes are the 
knowledge of the soul, able even as inquirers to discern the gift exuding from God, 
signified by the star. Hildegard honors those who learn of God through creation, and the 
Jews who followed the law. And conversely she honors the creation as God's 
composition. The gifts, strength and wisdom, would have been understood by 
philosophers as virtues, here associated with Hebrews, Samson and Solomon. The gift 
points to the Giver of gifts, the virtues acting as a referent for the inquirers. So the 
symbols' slippage mimics the process by which the pagans and Jews, and the Sisters 
themselves, can come to know God. The very shining of the star, flickering in the mind's 
eyes, helps to activate the imagination, signaling the unconscious that there is a hidden 
message being received, needing appropriation. Throughout the first part of this sermon 
Hildegard has allowed more and more symbol slippage, and from a simple allegory it has 
become a psychodrama. Though continuing to bear the burden of an exegesis on 
philosophers and the Jews in the economy of salvation, it now equally carries the 
meaning of the state of the individual Sister's soul and the process of preparing for 


Dona rather than virtus or gratia, making clear that even virtues are dependant upon God's 



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Regina Christianson 

Hildegard uses Bethlehem both as the location and occasion of creation and 
incarnation, the pasture where the four elements come into being, the locus of rationality. 
It is in this Jewish field of creation and rationality that God became incarnate, born of a 
virgin, a Jewish mother. The child Jesus is the vessel carrying the meaning innocence 
which the inquirers desire to know. On a spiritual level this can only be accomplished 
through spiritual virginity. In this case virginity is the vessel carrying the meaning of the 
state of the soul that is pure, ready to receive revelation. When the inquirer's soul has the 
appetite for spiritual gifts, and is willing to go on a spiritual journey, then the soul 
becomes a virgin prepared to receive the Holy Spirit's gift of incarnating the virtues. 
Innocence becomes a vessel for both the incarnation of the virtues, and for Christ's 
salvific action in the soul through the virtues, participating in atonement. The innocence 
of Christ carries both the meaning the saving of creation and that the Sisters can, through 
their virtues, enact the heavenly healing of this broken world. 

The gift of God, the star as the signal of God's reality and presence, is 
reciprocated with the gifts of the Magi, the sacrifice burnt whole upon the altar, which 
the nuns would have understood as the consecration of their virginity. This consecration 
is a response to an effulgent God. The virtue of virginity requires for its life prayer, 


perseverance, and hope, braided into the three strand rope that cannot be severed, 
binding themselves fast in love to God, through this gift of their virginity, both actual and 

The remarkable thing about Hildegard' s spiritualization of virginity is that it 
doesn't only belong to nuns, but is available to any inquirer. This does not take any value 
away from their consecrated virginity, but places it in a context where the physicality of it 




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Regina Christianson 

is a sacrament of their spiritual reality. It embraces any in the community or guests who 
may not be physically virgins. They too can find sacramental meaning in their 
continence and chastity, or their life of prayer and good works. Hildegard concludes her 
sermon reinforcing the inward, essential nature of virginity; the physicality of virginity is 
not the primary location of the virtue of virginity. The magi return to themselves, like the 
prodigal son, 38 into their own country, honest and humble to see who they really are, 
beloved children of God. The pursuit of heaven is the foundation of a wholesome 
ascesis, the value of which is based upon Xhsfree choice. 

What does this have to say to those who were virgins not of their own desire? Or 
continent because their husbands had repudiated them? Or chaste because being with the 
one they loved risked too much? Twelfth century aristocratic women's choices were 
controlled by their families and political exigencies. Many a young woman wanted to be 
a nun and couldn't, many a woman wanted a voice in the choice of marriage partners and 
couldn't, many young women were designated by their families as oblates, as was 
Hildegard herself. 

The idea of marriage as a sacrament was part of the Gregorian reform. 40 True 
marriage in the ancient and early medieval world was originally exclusively an 
aristocratic privilege. Clergy marriages created the need for the church hierarchy to 
protect both the church's property and its control over church institutions, so the church 
became involved in the marriage business. Later the church acted as a sort of guarantor or 
guardian of aristocratic and noble marriages, as part of insuring an ordered society. One 

38 Lk. 15:17. 

For a fuller discussion of this complex issue, see Sisters in Arms . 

Even the Gregorian reformers were primarily concerned with powerful families. However 
over time, the church increasingly abrogated for itself the power to make or break marriage for any 


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Regina Christianson 

result, originally intended or not, of the Gregorian sacralization of marriage was the legal 
requirement of free consent by both the man and the woman. 41 This doctrine implied that 
women should be able to have a voice concerning their marital state. But free choice was 
in fact not a reality. 

Hildegard was too young to have made a free choice when she was sent to be 
enclosed with Jutta, and who knows what motivated her at sixteen to go through with 
taking her vows. By spiritualizing freedom of choice, Hildegard is not just making the 
best of a bad lot. She genuinely honored her monastic life. And she genuinely honored 
her Sisters. What she is providing, as magistra entrusted with their souls and their 
bodies, is a wholesome motivation for ascesis. Whatever their outward circumstance, all 
could have the freedom in their souls to choose God. As the nuns prepared for the 
continuing long, cold nights and let go the festal tide, they were being inwardly honored 
and encouraged. 

Sermon 20: Luke 2: 22-32 
Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple 

Translation of the Sermon Text 

After they were fulfilled , that is completed, the days, in truth, of her purification , 

so that Mary might be cleansed from every influence of womanly constraints, 42 certainly 

that Mary remained a virgin, following the law , clearly as men and woman are 

accustomed to be married, of Moses , any who are created of earth and water; they 

41 This was never completely established. The families' power to do marriage through contact 
without benefit of clergy was still a thorn in the side of Tudor English clerics. And if we consider the sad 
story of Miss Vanderbilt, Lady Astor, we must conclude that when family, wealth, and power collide, free 
choice proves a chimera. 

42 purgata sit ab omni contagione muliebris copulae: see commentary. 


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Regina Christianson 

brought , 43 any who vow virginity by good example, Jesus , that is virginity, up to 
Jerusalem , certainly to the vision of true peace and salvation, that they might present, 
clearly that they might fulfill a promise, him , certainly virginity, to the Lord , that which 
they vowed. As is written , that is following the example that He had, in the law of the 
Lord , certainly of the incarnation of the Lord, who was without spot, because every male 
opening the womb , so that it is possible to open the womb, if one wishes, but also might 
powerfully close it; will be called holy to the Lord , because virginity is virtuous and holy 
to the God. And when they offered a sacrifice , that is the praise of victory, following that 
which is said , certainly the promise, in the law of the Lord , clearly in the incarnation of 
the Lord, a pair of turtle-doves , that is innocence and chastity, and two young pigeons, 
clearly through consecrated service, thus being martyred in the conflict of vice. 
And behold a man , any who ought to be in so excellent virginity, was in 
Jerusalem , certainly in the vision of salvation, whose name was Simeon , clearly the 
reflector, in which one might contemplate and protect, lest a hawk attacks from above. 
And this man was just , in the right paths, so one might not sometimes excessively love life, 
sometime excessively love the flesh, but would embrace the straight way in solitude, God- 
fearing , not putting the crown of honor upon one's own head, but casting it down, 
expecting, in desire, the consolation of Israel , that is abundant life must be both confessed 
and extolled. 

And the Holy Spirit , according to Her gifts, was within him , because she banished 
vice 44 from herself. And he had received , certainly she inwardly drew towards her inner 
self, a response , in a foretaste, from the Holy Spirit that he would not to see , in her 

Vulgat: Tulerunt ilium , they brought that child. 
44 Vitia: sin, vice, fault, or defect. I chose to translate it as vice because Hildegard was writing 
within the context of the struggle of vice and virtue. 


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Regina Christianson 

conscience, his own death , in failing, so that she might be replenished, not growing faint 
with hunger, which neither knows nor tastes of the good: except first, from strength to 
strength, she ascends, he would see the Lord's Messiah , clearly seeing Christ, so that it 
would not possible to be satiated with His sweetness. And he came, inspired by the 
spirit , her intellect, into the temple , that is into the sweetness of the vision of God, so that 
she might love God above everything. And when they led , serving rightly, the child 
Jesus , certainly virginity which ought to be pure, his parents , clearly good examples, that 
they might accomplish , by furnishing, following the custom , that is honor, of the law, 
certainly the incarnation of the Lord, that they imitate in virginity, for him , in holiness 
and praise. 

And that one (Simeon) received, embracing, him in his arms, clearly full of 
longing, and blessed God , because they rejoice in eternal life, who cried aloud in (this) 
world to God, and said, in prayer: Now, dismiss, that is carry off your servant, clearly the 
servile work of my flesh and the ardor of desire for carnal things; according to your word, 
clearly according to the honor of your son, who showed us chastity, in peace , as while in 
the peace of rest, having been released from Satan's bond: because my eyes , that is the 
knowledge of my intellect, they have seen , discerning, your salvation, in the pleasantness 
of Your sweetness, which you have prepared , the shinning gem, before the face, that is 
the desire, of all peoples, since virginity shines brightly and clearly before the other 
virtues in fidelity. A light, clearly daybreak , towards revelation in manifestation, of the 
Gentiles , that is against the law of the flesh of those live in carnal bonds, and the glory , 
clearly the unique worth, of your people, clearly everyone, Israel , who follow in virginity. 


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Regina Christianson 

Virginity in Sermon 20: Luke 2: 22-32 
Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple 

Analysis of the Text 

The Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, also known as the Feast of 

the Purification of Our Lady, Candlemas, kept on February 2, marks the end of the 

Christmas season. Epiphany, of course, has already begun, with its continuing theme of 

the revelation of the Incarnation, but the feast itself is the last bit of Jesus' natal narrative. 

Coming during the some of coldest days of winter, the feast places the nuns in a liminal 

time. It comes a month after the celebrations of the Twelve Days of Christmas, a month 

and a half before the next major feast, the Annunciation, and a reminder that Lent ("and a 

sword shall pierce through your soul also") 45 with all its disciplines looms on the horizon. 

The previous day is the first day of spring in the Celtic calendar, the time when the lambs 

begin to be born. Days are visibly longer, and the sun shines more brightly as its latitude 

increases. But it is a sun that makes the ice-clad forest sparkle in the landscape that 

Bruegel would later depict peasants with straw wrapped in their clothing, playing in the 

ice and snow, the air so cold that they can see their breath. The nuns would have held 

candles during mass, in honor of Our Lady holding the light of the world in her arms as 

she entered the temple to enact thankfully the remembrance of God's gift of life, 

salvation, to the Israelites when they were slaves in Egypt. The flickering, golden glow 

of those candles, bathing each nun's face in light, as she sweetly sang in one of the great 

monastic choirs of all of Europe, celebrating a feast centered on dedication, a mirror to 

her own consecrated life. This is the feast par excellence for nuns to reflect upon the 

meaning of their lives. 

45 Luke 2:35. 


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Regina Christianson 

. The Gospel passage tells the story of the journey of Joseph, Mary and baby 
Jesus to the temple in Jerusalem to present Jesus as the first born son of his mother, and 
of Simeon receiving the child into his arms. Within the first sentence Hildegard sets up 
contrast between marriage, implying sexual intimacy, and virginity. Through the 
fulfilling of the requirements of the law, Mary is purified. Hildegard and her nuns, 
conflating sexual intercourse with venial sin, 46 would have believed that Mary, ever- 
virgin, had no need of purification. So what is the purification that Mary and, by 
symbolic slippage, the nuns, are engaged in? Everything touching woman 's intercourse, 
or, every contagion of feminine constraints, The word copulae literally means grapnels, 
hooks that hold a ship tethered to a dock. Mary, and thus each nun, is purified of this 
womanly binding, whether of ritual impurity or venal sin. 

Hildegard says nothing to condemn those who marry, those created of earth and 


water. c The nuns of her audience were those who following the archetypes of Mary and 
Jesus, the good example, consecrated virgins. By calling Mary and Jesus good examples, 
Hildegard accomplishes two things: she reinforces her nuns' expectation that she will be 
speaking from within an allegorical exegesis, exemplum evoking archetype, and she 
honors the nuns by binding symbolically the meaning of their virginity to the personhood 
of Jesus and Mary. Jesus is the allegorical tenor for virginity. To understand how this use 
of symbolism works one must imagine Jesus as a vessel holding virginity, that Jesus is 
the shadow of the substance virginity. 

Mary as archetype, and thus each nun, is not bound to the old creation, earthly 
things, but is bound through the vow of virginity to the new Jerusalem. Nuns considered 

46 As would have any Twelfth Century Catholic. 
Omni contagione muliebris copulae. 
A possible reference to Christians who are both in Adam (clay) and in Christ (baptized). 


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Regina Christianson 

their life in the monastery as heaven on earth; Hildegard certainly taught this. She 
considered that her first priority as magistra was to enable her nuns to build this heaven 
through their charity towards each other, their Opus Dei which seen by them as a 
sacrifice of praise, their humility and obedience. The building up of Jerusalem appears 
frequently in Hildegard' s writings and illuminations as an elaborate symbol cluster of 
construction, right relationships, and the music of the spheres. Here she evokes those 
resonances of unity that come from her words vision, peace, and salvation. 

Hildegard follows a tradition as old as the first beginnings of Christianity in 
seeing a substantive connection between Hebrew Scriptures and Jesus. This gospel 
writer himself is drawing upon that connection by saying, as it is written. By calling that 
which is written exemplum, Hildegard explicitly says that the connection is archetypal. 
The law becomes the vessel carrying the meaning incarnation, tied by the word for law, 
lex, which is contained in a symbol cluster that includes word, precepts, teaching, 
reading, edifying. The Word of God, through whom everything was created, participates 
in the created order, making God's will and presence known first through the law of the 
covenant, and then through Jesus. The incarnation then becomes the vessel for carrying 
Jesus who was without spot, that is, the vessel that carries virginity. The word I 
translated as spot, macula, also carries the meanings stain, blemish, or dishonor. 51 

Hildegard reflects on virginity as a both a choice and a grace. She not only 
contrasts the choices with the words for opening and closing the womb, that is sexual 
intercourse and childbearing on the one hand or continence on the other, but she also 

ad uisionem uerae pads et salutis. 

The disciples on the road to Emmaus being but one example. 

Medieval English hymns to the Virgin refer to her being without spot or spotless, A virgin 
unspotted being but one example, and there are instances of the word maculas being carried into English 
use as in the carol / sing of a may den who was maculas. 


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Regina Christianson 

plays with the word masculinum , that is male, by using the word viriliter , which I 
translated powerfully, but can also mean with manly vigor or in a manly or virile way, and 
says that virginity is virtuosa , which contains both virtue and manly strength in its 
meaning. She is claiming the heroic status of virago for her nuns. The platonic 
hierarchical construct was open to the possibility that if a woman showed manly virtues, 
she became masculine, sort of an "honorary man," a virago. A consecrated virgin or true 
widow exhibited those virtues by "manfully" resisting temptation. 52 

Another interpretation, remembering that symbols are multivalent so therefore the 
phrase can carry more than one meaning, is referent to Mary as ever-virgin. She was a 
virgin before giving birth, and through the virtue/grace of God remains a virgin. 

Virginity is holy to God, sancta meaning consecrated as well as inviolable. 
Hildegard's language turns towards the language of sacrifice, first to the sacrifice of 
praise which she understood as incumbent upon all creation, then to the sacrifices which 
are inherent in the covenants. Hildegard evokes the promises of God in the Hebrew 
Bible, containing the salviflc promise from the beginning of creation, at the covenant 
with creation at the time of Noah, the covenant with Abraham and his descendants, and 
the covenant of the law. Once again, like waves on a pond, the symbols ripple from law 
to incarnation to Jesus to sacrifice to turtle-doves to innocence and chastity to 
consecrated service to martyrdom. There is a strong sense of movement as our minds skip 
across these ripples, a mirror of the movement up to Jerusalem, a memory of journey, an 
intensification of experience. We are drawn into the spiritual drama. 

This was one way women in the Early Church sought to carve out for themselves exemptions 
from societal proscriptions and male control. If they were honorary men, then they were no longer women, 
bound by laws and customs pertaining to women. 

53 Gen. 1:31; 8:20-22, 9:17; 15:1-21, 17:1-27; Ex. 19-31. 


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Regina Christianson 

Simeon becomes the mirror of that spiritual drama, reflecting the salvific vision, 
the meaning of virginity, which is the nun's life, and the need to cultivate and protect 
one's spiritual life. For Hildegard, virginity is not only physical state, but a virtue. As 
such, virginity plays a role in the spiritual contention within the soul, a struggle which 
she portrayed in her allegorical opera, Or do Virtutem . In this sermon, Hildegard is quite 
affirming in her estimation of the soul's ability to carry on this struggle. The particular 
virtues of which Simeon is a reflector are contempt of the world, prudence, fear of God, 
humility, and victory, all of whom play prominent roles in her opera. These virtues are 
shown in this passage to be strong allies of the virtue virginity. 

Virtues are themselves insubstantials, allegories of attributes. As such, they dwell 
in the world of the imagination. Considered to be graces, or gifts of God, they are also 
discernable and describable attributes of humans. In the medieval Christian interpretation 
of the platonic understanding of the contingency of reality, virtues as graces either are 
attributed infused into the soul, 54 or are reflections of God's own attributes participating 
in the created realm. The close link between God and the graces is analogous to the 
relation of the Holy Spirit within the Trinity; the close link between the graces and 
human beings is analogous to the relation between the Holy Spirit and the created order. 
Hildegard exploits this ambiguous placement of their reality as a means of moving the 
imagination from one realm of reality to another, always God-referent. When she writes, 
And the Holy Spirit, according to Her gifts, was within him (Simeon), because she 
banished vice from herself Hildegard makes the connections between the Holy Spirit, the 
virtues and the conflict with vice (vitia). 

An interesting contrast with Aristotle who thought that virtue was the manifestation of what 
something truly was. Christians were at great pains to make sure to teach the virtues were from God and 
are not inherent in the soul, at least not since the fall. 


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Regina Christianson 

At this point in the sermon it is especially important to separate the two realms of 

reality, the biblical narrative and the psychodrama. Because in the psychodrama 

Hildegard is addressing the nuns' souls, the use of the feminine pronouns is warranted, 

and helps to keep in mind that she is not describing Simeon himself. Hildegard affirms 

the nuns' intellects and their senses as the God-given vehicles through which the nuns 

have access to the beatific vision, the reward for their sacrifice of praise, their sacrifice of 

consecration. Hildegard uses the language of the senses- vision, taste, hunger, thirst, 

satiated, sweetness- to describe and evoke spiritual desire. The biblical narrative 

allegorically assures the nuns that in the conflict, even when they fail, their conscience 

will be given spiritual food and drink, which is the grace needed for their souls to be 

revived. Why? So that she might love God above everything. This echoes Paul's 


The unmarried woman and the virgin are anxious about the affairs of the 
Lord, so that they may be holy in body and spirit; but the married woman 
is anxious about the affairs of the world, how to please her husband. 55 

The particular Christian reason for virginity is therefore that virginity is seen as 
the context of a simplicity of life that frees the human to love and serve God with a 
radical singularity, in sole. 56 The soul serves virginity, following the exempla Mary and 
Jesus, so that reflecting the exempla, she may also be an occasion of incarnation for the 
purpose of actualizing holiness and building up heaven through praise. 

As when in the last section of the sermon Hildegard moved the drama into the 
soul, so as Simeon holds the child in his arms and prays, Hildegard spirals, first to 
interconnection between the soul and the body, then back to the liminality of the virtues, 

55 I Cor 7:34. 

56 In sole: in solitude, in singularity. 


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then the beatific vision, concluding with one last pirouette, a rapid contrasting of those 

who marry and those follow virginity. The allegorical movement is carried by an 

aesthetic movement from the weight of flesh, the physicality of desire, Satan 's bonds, the 

carnal bonds, to the point of rest, 57 the weightless hiatus at the apex of the swing of the 

pendulum, to the essential insubstantiality of light, evoked by the shining gems of 

spiritual desire, virginity that shines brightly and clearly, the daybreak of the revelation 

of the glory of the unique worth of all who follow in virginity. Aesthetically, things that 

shine, especially if the shining moves over something solid, trick the mind into imagining 

movement. 58 The things that shine are not here the light, but reflect the light, 

recapitulating the allegorical tenor of Simeon. Here Hildegard moves the shining of 

spirituality across the solidity of carnality, activating a sense not only of contrast, but of 

the freeing possibility of movement, that one is not condemned to stasis, but saved into 


The sense of freeing movement is, of course, inherent in the biblical story. It is a 

story of procession which is, consciously or unconsciously on the part of the author of the 

gospel, an echo of Psalm 84, 59 which begins: 

How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! 
My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord; 
My heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God. 

The psalm evokes a procession or journey to the temple: 

As they go through the valley of Baca they make it a place of springs,. . . 
They go from strength to strength; the God of gods will be seen in Zion. 60 

in pace, ita ut in pace requiei, a diabolo solutus : in peace, thus while in the peace of rest, 
having been released from Satan's bond: 


Elaine Scarry, Dreaming by the Book (New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1999). 

Psalm 83 in the Vetus and Vulgate. Hildegard and her nuns would have sung the Vetus during 

the Offices. This psalm is currently in the Proper for the Feast of the Presentation. 


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Regina Christianson 

and extols the singular wonder of being there: For a day in your courts is better than a 

thousand elsewhere. 61 In the gospel narrative, not only do Joseph, Mary, and Jesus 

journey to the temple, but also Simeon, who life seems to live out the psalm, 

Happy are they who live in your house. . . 

I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God. . . 

One goes physically up to Jerusalem from lower elevations. The temple is on the height 

of the hill of the city. There are steps up to the temple and within the temple. It is not only 

processional, but ascending. Hildegard clearly references the psalm by the words from 

strength to strength (the soul) ascends, so Hildegard was aware of the resonances 

between the two scriptures, one from the Hebrew Bible and one from the New Testament. 

A word-use analysis between the psalm and the sermon shows that, in fact, the Psalm is 

the canvas upon which the sermon is painted or woven. 64 The biblical narrative is the 

multi-colored yarn, the commentary is the pattern, the sermon the tapestry or hooked rug, 

but Psalm 84, almost completely invisible except for these three words, is the canvas 

backing upon which the piece is performed, a backing which gives the sermon its shape, 

holds it together, and gives it its strength. 

Why would Hildegard do this? I think she did it because Psalm 84 resonates 

powerfully for her nuns. They sing it at least weekly as part of the Daily Offices, so it is 

an immediately accessible reference. And, because the psalm privileges presence in the 

temple above all else, it is a text that is particular to the nuns' consecrated life, lived in 

the monastery, hours spent in prayer in the chapel. This is a paean of praise for that 

60 Ibid, w. 6a, 7. 

61 Ibid,v. 10a. 

62 Ibid., w. 4, 10b. 


de uirtute in uirtutem, ascendat. 
64 Not only the direct quote from strength to strength, but also turtle doves, daybreak, ascensions, 
virtutem, as well as the evocation of the courts of the Lord, the temple, and look on the face of your 
anointed (Vetus: respice infaciem Christi tui; Vulgat: adtende faciem Christi tui). 


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which gives meaning to their lives, where they can see reflected in Holy Scripture their 
own lives. With the resonances of this psalm she could cause her Sisters to remember 
their particular vocation, feelings of self- worth as brides of Christ, the value of their lives 
in the eyes of God. And she could do it all the more powerfully because she only evoked 
the psalm, and the psalm as the symbolic carrier of meaning could slip into the 
unconscious of the psyche, bypassing discursive reasoning, and work its healing and 
edifying power in the secret places of the soul. 

Sermon 28: Mark 16: 1-7 
Easter: the Feast of the Resurrection of the Lord 

Translation of the Sermon Text 

Mary Magdalene , that is the Old Testament, like a sinful woman who is 

beneficial, not to mention signifying repentance, and Mary of Jacob , clearly of the human 

nature of the Savior, who planted justice, and Salome , the breathing out of the Holy 

Spirit, who made the good news to be known throughout the whole world, bought , in 

grief for the dead, spices , certainly diverse signs and virtues, clearly the Old Testament, 

signifying as in the ram, 65 prophesying as David, and seeing as Ezekiel, and the humanity 

of the Savior proclaiming God's witness, and the breathing out of the Holy Spirit 

revealing great virtues, coming, that they might anoint with oil , embracing, Jesus , God 

and Savior. 

And very early in the morning , beginning well, one of the Sabbath , clearly one 

desire, that they might see good in good works, they came , running the way of God's 

commandment, to the tomb , that they might therefore mortify themselves on account of 

their vices, at the rising of the sun , that is made visible through work of holiness. And 

65 Gen. 22: 13, the ram given to Abraham to sacrifice in lieu of Isaac. 


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they said to one another , the Old and the New Testament of themselves exhorting: Who 
will roll back for us , that is who might help us, if not God, because the old law teaches 
the fleshly bond, and in the New Testament the breathing of the Holy Spirit, exhorting, 
says that we should abstain from these, and we are not able to do this, without the help of 
God, the stone , certainly the burden of the flesh, from the entrance , where the seed is 
being sown, of that which is spoken: Multiply and increase and fill the earth', of the tomb , 
clearly of mortifications. On the other hand, neither the Old nor the New Testament gave 
instruction to virgins, however the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, exhorting, instituted 
that. As is written: / have no command of the Lord concerning virgins. 

And gazing , in steadfast faith, they saw , recognizing, the stone , clearly the burden 
of the flesh, rolled back , that is removed. Obviously it was very large , because the 
burden of the flesh is in such a great impediment, that would be impossible to throw off 
and remove that burden from oneself, if not through the help of God, as was spoken: 
Until I put your enemies your footstool, because the devil has assurance that the 
Jordan River flows in his bones. This evil enemy will be overcome in virgins and the 
continent, and fornication will be the footstool. 

And they went in , through chastity, the tomb , certainly the mortification of the 
flesh, whereby humans mortify themselves for the sake of God, they saw , by the 
renunciation of themselves, a youth , this is the mature fortitude which is in virginity and 
in continence, therefore because a human dismisses this that is in the flesh, and this is 
being seized in the spirit that which is not in the flesh, abiding in chastity without stain 

66 1 Cor. 7:25. 

67 Ps. 1 10:1b (V.Ps. 109:1b); cfr. Mt 22:44; Mk 12:36, Lk 20:43, Acts 2:35; ICor. 15:25; 

Heb. 1:13, 10:13. 

68 Vulgate Job 40:18. 


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and without wrinkle, 69 sitting , before the judgment seat of God, 10 on the right hand of 

7 1 

God's power, as was spoken: Sit at my right hand, being clothed in enclosure, with a 
garment , certainly with the clothing of our first innocence, white , in the radiance of 
virginity. And they were dumbfounded , on account of the mockery of the devil and the 
uproar of the world. 

And he said to them , exhorting: Do not be alarmed , that is do not be terrified, 
because the Savior has more power in you than the fragility that is of your flesh. You 
seek Jesus , in the impossibility and in the impotence of your flesh, of Nazareth , who will 
be sanctified in your flesh, crucified , being crucified in you, as was written: Truly he bore 

77 TX 

our weaknesses, seeing that he died for us, risen , in your holiness, running towards 
the way, 74 and his departure from the highest heaven. He is not here , in such infirmity 


and instability, as you are. Behold the place , that is, considered to be empty of value, 
where he was placed, 76 certainly the place where the doubt of your mind held him to have 
in impossibility, because he is powerful to run to your aid. But go, in the path to sin, and 
tell , announcing, to his disciples , clearly his teaching, and to Peter , clearly of the binding 
in which you have been bound in the narrowness of the flesh, because he will go before 


you , running to be met your in radiant works, into Galilee , where you cross over evil 
and bring about good. There you will see him , aiding, inspiring and revealing good 
examples, as he told you , certainly as his incarnation demonstrated to you. 

Eph. 5:27. V: non habentem maculam aut rugamaut a liquid eiusmodi sed ut sit sancta et 



70 Rom. 14:10. 

Ps. 1 10:1a (V. Ps. 109:1a); cfr. Mt. 22:44; Mk. 12:36; Lk. 20:42. 

79 — 

V. Is. 53: 4; cf. Matt. 8:17 ipse infirmitates nostras accepit et aegrotationes portavit. 
73 V. Pet 2:21. 

Though not a direct quote, 1 Cor. 9:24-27 underlies this paragraph. 

estimatio uacua est. 

V. ubi posuerunt eum, where they had placed him. 

V. praecedit, he goes. 


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Regina Christianson 

Sermon 28: Mark 16: 1-7 
Easter: the Feast of the Resurrection of the Lord 

Analysis of the Text of the Sermon 
Holy week is an exhausting time in a monastery. The liturgy is longer, sombre, 
and emotionally draining. There are extra-liturgical services, re-enacting the poignant 
last week of Jesus' life on earth. The chapel is increasingly stripped and pictures and 
statues shrouded with black or burlap cloth. The vestments are purple for the 
penitential season. Outside, the snow which had reflected light is gone, replaced by light- 
devouring mud, and by the greyness of the frequent spring rains. Tenebrae services, 
achingly beautiful, echo the pathos of innocent suffering. Shriven, the nuns prepare for 
their Easter communion. But first they must dwell in the shadow of Passiontide. Good 
Friday everything stops. Even the bells are muffled. 

Holy Saturday morning holds the silence, but the offices are radically shorter than 
just two days before. The sacristy and kitchen come alive with festal preparations. The 
statues and pictures are released from their shrouds and spring flowers appear in the vases 
below them. By the afternoon the word alleluia is sung for the first time in over forty 
days. The liturgy increases in vitality and the music becomes more sprightly, as the joy 
of Easter blossoms throughout the monastery. The nuns still need their heavy choir robes 


It is uncertain when veiling statues during the latter part of Lent originated. Dates vary from 
1000 to the thirteenth century. See Jonathan Goodall, "Veil" in The New Westminster Dictionary of Liturgy 
and Worship, ed. by Paul Bradshaw (Westminster John Knox Press: Louisville, London, 2002), and Joanne 
M. Price, "Vestments and Objects" in The Oxford History of Christian Worship, ed. by Geoffrey 
Wainwright and Karen Tucker (Oxford University Press: Oxford, New York, 2006.) The practice certainly 
fits with the 12 th century Northern European liturgical developments, the Benedictine ethos, and with the 
increasingly visual medieval spirituality. 


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Regina Christianson 

in the chilly chapel and chapter, but they no longer see their breath, and the earlier 
daybreak brings a fortified sunlight into their lives. 

Hildegard's Easter sermon holds both realities, the somber and the joyous. Her 
continuous concern with the spiritual well-being of her nuns channels her thoughts and 
words in a tropological allegory. The conflict of good and evil, vice and virtue, carnal 
and spiritual are dramatized by the three women at the tomb that early Sabbath morning. 

Hildegard begins by allegorizing the three women as Mary Magdalene carrying 
the meaning of the Old Testament and repentance, Mary Jacobi carrying Jesus' humanity, 


and Salome carrying the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The Old Testament, Jesus' 
humanity, and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit manifest signs and virtues. The Old 


Testament contains the sign of the ram given in place of Jacob as the antitype of the 
Jesus' sacrifice, the sacrifice which God provided, so Hildegard is reminding the Sisters 
of the liturgical context of her sermon, both regards to the liturgical season and to the 
celebration of the Easter Mass, at which her Sisters will be able to receive communion. 
Hildegard's use of the virtues, even this early in the sermon, is complex. The reference 
to the Old Testament usually evokes memories of law, tropology. But here she raises the 
revelatory attributes of the Holy Testament, the prophets and seers. She calls these 
revelatory attributes virtues. So we are not simply dealing with virtues as ethics or 
morals. In fact, she brings the meaning of the three women into unity through a series of 
gerunds that transgress the borders of Old Testament, New Testament and post testament: 
signifying, prophesying, seeing, proclaiming, breathing, revealing. What is revealed? 

I will designate the Hebrew Bible as the Old Testament in this sermon's analysis because it 
more clearly reflects both the contrast and the unity between the two that is interwoven into this sermon. 
80 Gen. 22:13. 


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Regina Christianson 

Great virtues. Why? That they (the Sisters, but also on a spiritual level, the personified 
virtues themselves) might embrace Jesus, God and Savior. 

Throughout this sermon Hildegard frequently uses participles which in English 
are translated as words ending -ing, signifying something happening over time, 
implying movement and energy. Through her rhetoric, Hildegard' s audience is swept 
into a world of activity: running, exhorting, running to meet, recognizing. Through the 
combination of the boundary transgression and the use of gerunds, the soul imagines 
movement, feels energy. The imagination is stimulated, the signal is given, saying "we 
are about to embark on a journey of spiritual consequence. Awake the secret depths of 
the soul, that it may receive spiritual food." 

The soul will need this energy because Hildegard is talking about mortifications, 
the fleshly bond, and the burden of the flesh. All three are spiritually weighty. On the 
level of tropology, Hildegard describes the souls who have already begun the spiritual 
path, through good works, mortification, and avoiding vices. She uses a rather risky 
symbol slippage, considering the Cathars, by having the entrance to the tomb be the place 
where the seed is being sown, of that which is spoken: Multiply and increase and fill the 
earth. On the level of the seed being the vessel to carry the meaning of vice or sin, if 
one is talking about the passions as the seat of sin, as St. Augustine did, then she can 
justify her orthodoxy. But it is very precarious to a priori associate sin and sex. In the 
European dualistic world view, sin and sex too easily conflate. That seems to have been 
one of the problems that the orthodox church had with the Cathars world view. But 
Hildegard here is merely saying that through participation in a fallen world, one cannot 

In Latin it is the future passive participle, the gerund, and the gerundive. 
Though frankly ubiquitous in church writings from Jerome until today. 


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Regina Christianson 

avoid sin. 83 On a subconscious level, tomb and cave are symbols of female sexuality. 
Hildegard neutralizes or, rather, transforms the meaning, by having the tomb carry the 
meaning of mortification, in this case, performing the virtue of virginity. She makes it 
clear, though, that is not because physical expressions of sexual intimacy are against the 
will of God, or the creation of an evil demi-god. And she quite correctly reminds her 
Sisters that the passage in 1 Corinthians where St. Paul, through the inspiration of the 
Holy Spirit, exhorting, a passage that is regarded as the charter for those wishing to 
embrace virginity for the sake of the kingdom, St. Paul clearly states that this is not a 
commandment from God. 

Where in other places Hildegard interprets circumcision under the law of the Old 
Testament as an antitype for virginity, she does not go there at this time. She does not 
wish to confuse what the Scripture says in ipsum, and what it says through interpretation. 
And, importantly, she wants to be very clear that virginity, though inspired by the Holy 
Spirit, is a choice, that one can marry and have sexual intercourse with God's loving 
blessing, not God's grudging tolerance. Hildegard has the Old and the New Testament in 
an almost Hegelian dialogue, exhorting of themselves. The former teaches the fleshly 
bond, the latter does not contradict that teaching, but asks for abstention in the context of 
the immanent Last Days. For either marriage or consecrated virginity, God's grace is 
needed. However, the sermon is turning towards a focus on virginity and continence, 


Hildegard would have seen as including not only the physical universe, but the angelic and 
spiritual orders. 

Or perhaps just chastity or continence. All work in this context, but her next comments are 
directly about virgins, with no mention of chastity or continence. 


It is not clear to me if "exhorting each other," which flows better in translation, is actually a 
complete meaning of se exhortando uetus et nouum testamentum, so I translated the phrase literally. 

I interpret Hildegard as to referring to both the Old and the New Testament's teachings as 
requiring God's grace because she places them both in related clauses. It is equally valid to interpret the 
grace in reference to abstinence only (NT), but that does not reflect the valuation Hildegard placed on both 


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Regina Christianson 

Hildegard's particular responsibility. The mortification of abstinence becomes localized 
within the monastery culture: mortification (which includes fasting, prayer, going out of 
one's way to serve others); the renunciation of themselves that is obedience (which 
always contains humility in Medieval monastic ascesis); being clothed, which carries 
both the meaning of receiving the habit of a nun and being enclosed in the monastery; 
abiding in chastity in consecrated virginity or continence; sitting in stability through the 
life of prayer; and being a member of the school of virtue of the Rule of St. Benedict, 
practicing fortitude, innocence, and the other virtues. 

Hildegard is under no illusion that anyone other than the soul undertaking this 
journey will either understand or support this dedication. The mockery of the devil and 
the uproar of the world were all too real to her experience and that of her Sisters. In 
economy of the Middle Ages, as a Benedictine she belonged to the second estate, 
orationes, those who prayed. The radically relational cosmos, which is foundational in 
Hildegard's theology, requires prayer and good works as essential for the health and well- 

go oq 

being of all creation. Indeed they participated in salvation. 

But in the twelfth century the Benedictine way was losing status. The Gregorian 
reform called clergy and layfolk alike to the vita apostolica, a life of simplicity, 
generosity, and in accordance with Christ's teachings. The idea quickly took on a life of 
its own, inspiring the ideal of common property, of equality between classes, of 

marriage and virginity, or that the whole first part of the sermon rhetorically transgresses the boundaries of 

the testaments. 

Rule of St. Benedict, Prologue 45, 4:78, 73: 6. The vow of stability was the only vow required 

by the Rule. 


Salus, well-being; solvere, to be well; salvatio, salvation. 

This (ethical) relationality is found throughout her writings. Examples are Book One: Vision 
rhree and Book Two: Vision Five in Scivias. 


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Regina Christianson 

mendicant preaching, and eventually of a different understanding of the Religious Life 
and poverty. 

Another sign of the loss of status for the established Orders, Canon 17 of the First 
Lateran Council 90 required that: 

"Abbots and religious were to be prohibited from admitting sinners to penance, 
visiting the sick, administering extreme unction, singing solemn and public Masses; 
they are obliged to obtain the holy chrism and holy oils from their respective 
bishops." 91 

This theoretically placed abbots and other monastic leaders under the bishops. This was 
an issue of line of fealty and arena of control. While Canon 17 appears to apply to men 
only, it implies a loss of status for all monastics, a privileging of ordained secular 
priesthood. Soon would follow the requirement of strict enclosure for nuns and its 
attendant artificial separating of prayer and service. 

Simony was another concern of the Gregorian reforms. The charge of simony was 
being leveled at nuns because their dowries "bought" them a place in the monastery. In 
the process of receiving nuns into the community, in providing a sound financial basis for 
the community, and in the process of deciding leadership for the community, the ethical 
point of reference was culturally shifting. Hildegard's work to establish her monastery at 
St. Rupertsberg, extract it from canonical dependency on the Abbot of St. Disibodenberg, 

The First Lateran Council was presided over by Hildegard's own archbishop, Calixtus II of 
Mainz. This council ratified many of the reforms Gregory VII had been working towards. 

91 Catholic Encyclopedia, 1910 ed., v.s. "First Lateran Council." The Second Lateran Council, 
1 139, Canon 9, extended these prohibitions. 

This was in distinction to the Aachen reforms of the eight and ninth centuries which privileged 
Benedictine Monasticism. Though in many ways a continuation of the Aachen reforms, the Gregorian 
reforms sought to undo lay investiture championed by the Aachen reforms. This struggle between the two 
visions is implicated in much of the history of the Middle Ages. Many of Hildegard's troubles can be laid 
at this door. Hildegard's success in founding tow monasteries and securing their relative independence is 
remarkable in the light of these struggles within Christendom and its various institutions. 

Various canon laws would make increasingly demand nuns to be enclosed, culminating in the 
1298 bull Periculoso of Boniface VIII. McNamara, Jo Ann Kay. Sisters in Arms: Catholic Nuns through 
Two Millennia (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996) 317. 


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Regina Christianson 

and found the monastery at Eibingen all required finessing the canonical, ethical, 
diplomatic, and personal elements of the negotiations, at great cost to her emotionally and 

So it was from the pain of personal experience that Hildegard is speaking when 
she talks about the mockery and the uproar. 94 , 95 The aristocratic foundations of 
Hildegard' s monasticism were being challenged. Hildegard' s Rupertsberg Sisters were all 
from aristocratic families. The symbols of the crown of virginity and the veil of the Bride 
of Christ were both aristocratic symbols. The Sisters had seen their kinsfolk wearing 
crowns. They knew the power their kinsfolk wielded by being the possessors of those 
crowns. As fiefdoms the monasteries could exercise a certain amount of worldly power. 
The Abbess or Abbot was the legal public face of the institution and had civic 
responsibility which could parlay itself into real power. For the nuns, that would mean a 
measure of independence and control over their lives. But the twelfth century saw a real 
loss of power and autonomy for women and their institutions. How could these women, 
who were being called "redundant," maintain their sense of self- worth? Hildegard 
ministered to her Sisters emotional well being by investing meaning in their lives and by 
claiming the attendant spiritual power. 

Since the second century, consecrated virginity was seen as a moral authority, an 
important basis for the power of a woman. Bridal imagery, originally a symbol of the 
whole church, became localized in the consecrated virgins, quite possibly appropriated by 

94 The members of the Orders would resist this canon. A large part of the history of women's 
Religious Orders shows both why and how the women would seek escape from local control. 

But because of the nuns' peculiar social location it is difficult to see how it could have been 
differently arranged. The Beguines would have to face this issue, as indeed all religious women did. What 
women could do was so proscribed that survival required a compromise with principles, no matter which 
path they took. 


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Regina Christianson 

the women themselves as a way to assert spiritual power in reaction to their loss of 
autonomy and leadership in the Early Church. Many Christians believed that the 
consecrated virgin was a powerful intercessor, more efficacious in her prayers than a 
priest celebrating the Eucharist. 

In honoring virginity on Easter Day itself, Hildegard is not just telling her nuns to 
be moral; she is placing their vocation within the context of the center of the Christian 
faith. The empty tomb is the pregnant with virginal power. Hildegard holds in tension 
the biblical narrative, the allegorical, tropological, and spiritual interpretations. The 
imagination runs from one level of meaning to another, of one level of meaning through 
another, in the energy of the darting focus. Though at this point in the sermon the 
language is full of the difficulties in this world- sin, infirmity, instability, frailty, doubt, 
impossibility, and, my favorite, binding in which you have been bound in the narrowness 
of the flesh- each difficulty is met with the energy of the Resurrected One- sanctified in 
your flesh, from highest heaven, powerful to run to your aid. The message is clearly that 
the path to sin is part of the human experience, but that her Sisters should not to be afraid 
to live. The archetypal virgin is being sanctified in your flesh; salvation is running to be 
met in your radiant works. Spiritual energy explodes at the point where evil and good 
collide, where you cross over evil and bring about good, the spiritual 
crucifixion/resurrection within the soul, expressed in faithful and inspired conformity to 
the exempla. 

Roger Steven Evans, Sex and Salvation: Virginity as a Soteriological Paradigm in Ancient 
Christianity. (Maryland: University Press of America, 2003) 157. He quotes both Ambrose and Leander of 

Note once again Hildegard's use of active light imagery to activate and energize the 


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Regina Christianson 

To bring the sermon into conclusion, Hildegard does an elegant recapitulation of 
the beginning of the sermon in invoking the aiding, inspiring, and revealing, and the 
human nature of Jesus in the incarnation. The nuns stand as the youth, the mature 
fortitude which is in virginity and in continence', they themselves through their 
faithfulness are the sign and earnest of the Resurrection, they themselves are angelic 
messengers to the church. And through their faithfulness and prayers, through the radical 
relationality of the cosmos, they perform salvation for the whole of creation. 

Jesus, Vessel of Virginity 
Observations of Virgin as Symbol, Virtue, and Person 

Both the subconscious and imagination enable our minds to have one sign refer to 
another sign, to another, and so on, so that meaning is carried like a water skier over 
waves and wakes, like a slalom racer both propelled and tossed by the icy course. This 
symbolic slippage is one of Hildegard' s primary rhetorical devices. It also points to a 
way in which we can integrate what she says about virginity so that we can come to the 
heart of what virginity means to her. 

She and her nuns live in a context of sexual abstinence. This facet of their lives is 
of such public importance that they have made public solemn vows to remain chaste. For 
the women, such as Hildegard, who entered as virgins, and who, at least in the mind of 
the public, defined what a nun was, the fact of perpetual virginity looms large. Even 
more than orationes, they are virgo. The nuns' status in the eyes of the public depended 
upon their virginity. Hildegard' s sermons reflect the understanding of this high status. 
By slipping the idea of consecration into that of sacrifice, virginity becomes a virtue 
worthy of the crown. Two symbolic crown are conflated, the crown of the martyrs and 
the bridal crown. Virginity is seen as a form of martyrdom. This was certainly not the 


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Regina Christianson 

virginity in the first two centuries of the Church, either in motivation or in meaning, but it 
was an important part of Hildegard's understanding of the fact of physical virginity, and 
an important touchstone in her exploration of spiritual virginity. 

Virginity was understood by the medieval mind as a state of intactness. The idea 
of intactness was powerful in the medieval world. It carried the meaning of physical and 
essential integrity. Intactness resonated with self-control, autonomy, worth. Permeability 
was not valued in the neo-platonic world view; it implied violation, loss of control, a lack 
within the essential person. For this reason Mary's inviolability, her being ever- virgin, 
was championed in the middle ages. It was not simply that medieval people disliked sex 
so much that they were uncomfortable with the idea of Mary ever experiencing sexual 
intercourse, or that she was somehow sexless. On the contrary, medieval and renaissance 
iconography portrays her as fully a sexual being, but with her sexuality intact. This intact 
womb provided Jesus an inviolate temple, a place of essential integrity, in which 
incarnation could happen. Incarnation became the expression, the sacrament, the outward 
sign or the inward and spiritual grace, of virginity. Jesus, embedded in material creation 
but whose essence is integrity, is the sacrament, sign, and person of virginity. Hildegard 
identified with this incarnated virginity, for herself and her nuns. This identification 
went beyond identifying with Jesus' death and resurrection, either physically with 
suffering, or spiritually with ascesis. More importantly, according to the neo-platonic 
hierarchy of being, in their virginity, the virgins are Jesus the sign, and Jesus the sign 
provides the matrix in which their virginity was actualized. It is in this matrix that 
virtues' ambiguous placement in reality is if not resolved, at least meaningfully revealed. 


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Regina Christianson 

This high understanding of virginity is more than concern about feelings of self 
worth and status, though Hildegard knows as a pastoral theologian these are important to 
the spiritual well-being of her community. In this fallen and beloved creation, this virtue, 
virginity, takes on a persona of cosmic consequence, of eschatological significance. The 
struggle of the vices and virtues each Sister experiences is not only a personal 
psychodrama, but is the ultimate struggle for the heart of all created orders. That is why 
it is so hard to place where the drama is unfolding. Hildegard holds past, present, future 
and eternal all together. She takes historicity seriously, but she does not confine her 
actors to temporality. Through microcosm/macrocosm, virginity brings to the universe 
integrity on its wings. 


Hildegard lived in a culture that interpreted the world sacramentally. The 
physical was a sign pointing to the eternal. The meaning of the physical was to be found 
in disclosing its connection it to the spiritual. On the surface, our culture seems very far 
from this. But in fact, we are receivers of symbolic meaning all the time, every day. 
Because we are not aware, we are doubly susceptible to manipulations by those who are, 
i.e. the mythmakers of the Third Reich, advertisers, designers of malls. Manipulation is in 
itself morally neutral. It can be healthy, neutral, or destructive depending on its motive, 
the message's veracity, and the consequences. Preaching is a public medium through 
which the church performs evangelism. If a primary purpose of preaching is persuasion, 
then we need to take rhetoric, which is a form of manipulation, seriously. 

I began the study of Hildegard and her use of symbols because I knew her to be a 
master par excellence of symbolic language. In a visual and auditory culture such as 


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Regina Christianson 

hers, and with her gifts for both visual art and music, she was able to exploit a rich palate 
of symbols. As an extremely well-read person, she had the intellectual knowledge of 
classical use of symbols. As a monastic steeped in the Holy Scriptures, the classic 
commentaries, and the monastic exegetical tradition, she not only knew the narrative, but 


also the methodologies of playing with the texts to extract sweet honey from the rock. 
As a holy person responsible towards the well-being of her charges, she had a moral 
compass and a nurturing disposition. Because her theology is based in the context of a 
radically relational cosmos, created through love, her teachings are spiritually wholesome 
and nourishing. In short, I could trust her to be an effective, healthy spiritual teacher. I 
could trust not only her message, but her methodology. 

Three things arise for me out my study of Hildegard' s sermons. One, Hildegard 
allows symbolic language, which is the natural language of the soul (psyche), to evoke a 
spiritual response. In this we need to recapture the ancient and medieval understanding 
of the soul as comprised of the intellect, the affections, and the will. Equally we need to 
remember that the intellect contains not only discursive reasoning, but emotional and 
symbolic logic. When Hildegard thought about the mind she wasn't confining it to the 
top five inches of her body, but that her whole body embodied wisdom. Equally, she 
honored her Sisters as bearers of minds in which their whole body embodied wisdom. 
Her use of symbols is not arcane and obscure. The aesthetics in which the sermons are 
embodied carry that wisdom. Hildegard is performing aesthetic theology. 

Two, the Sisters listening to the sermons would receive this message of wisdom 
both consciously and subconsciously. I paid particularly attention to the subconscious 
because we are in great need of being responsible towards the subconscious messages we 

98 Psalm 81:16. 


The Crown and the Veil 
Regina Christianson 

are sending. Because symbols do not work on the level of discursive reasoning; they 
cannot be rationalized away. Symbols are engaged by the psyche, unable to be disarmed 
by argument. Once a symbol is heard it cannot be just dismissed, as can argument. It 
cannot be lost, because it is embedded in the unconscious. If it speaks truth, it cannot be 
dismissed, except by extreme psychological violence to oneself. If the soul receives a 
healthy truth, it is imbued with grace, inoculated with wisdom, anointed with the Spirit, 
moistened by viriditas, and strengthened through the virtues. If it is not a healthy 
message, this also cannot be rationalized away, but infects the soul. Thus the need for a 
heightened consciousness in the choice and use of symbols while preaching. Aesthetic 
theology is primary theology. 

Third, in the interplay between the conscious and subconscious, the various 
modes of thought, the various modes of the soul, the various modes interpretation in 
Hildegard's sermons, the imagination is stimulated. Through her masterful use of 
rhetoric, radiant, shining, running, the mind imagines movement and is energized. The 
audience becomes Simeon of the Reflecting Mirror, also engaging in the interplay 
between the conscious and subconscious, the various modes of thought, the various 
modes of the soul, the various modes interpretation. The audience also engages in their 
own aesthetic theology. Hildegard does not spoon-feed pearls of wisdom, but invites her 
audience to the heavenly banquet to dance theology. 



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